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Chattanooga is facing a crisis of epic proportions. Our city is being overrun with an enemy so insidious, so deceptive, that it has infiltrated our shops, our lunchrooms—even our own homes! We have an enemy within that must be driven from our city at the tip of a Shun blade. That enemy is pseushi.
UrbanDictionary.com defines pseushi as, “sushi that is sold in grocery stores, gas stations, and Chinese buffets. It resembles sushi, kinda tastes like sushi ... but it needs some help.” Sadly, pseushi cannot be helped, reasoned with or politely asked to leave. Like a zombie horde lurching its way through town, pseushi will slowly infect and assimilate the population until there is nothing left but a small enclave of true believers, politely refusing the cries of “Try the California roll” from those who have previously fallen prey to this blight. The horror.
The first victim of pseushi is the doe-eyed sushi virgin. Hesitant to commit to a potentially expensive meal, they unwittingly wander into the belly of the beast—the “sushi bar” at the Chinese buffet. That’s like going to a Chinese buffet to try biscuits and gravy for the first time. I can hear the cries of those proclaiming their love for the sushi at Chef Lin or New China, but I stand firm against pseushi. Plenty of people think the McRib tastes good too, but that doesn’t make it a good pork sandwich.
As a general rule of thumb, if it’s pre-made it’s pseushi. I don’t care if you are standing in FreshWholeLifeGreenFoods, if what you’re holding comes in a plastic container you’re about to jump into pseushi’s unmarked van and taken for a ride. There’s no tasty treat, only confusion and a really bad taste in your mouth later.
Pseushi feeds on a lack of knowledge, so the first tip for survival is arming ourselves with solid information. Sushi is a Japanese dish. Just because someone is Asian doesn’t mean they know how to make good sushi any more than someone who is white saying they know how to make good tuna salad. The word “sushi” means “with rice” and technically refers only to the sweet, lightly vinegared rice itself. “Sashimi” is raw fish or other seafood without the rice. Those little bricks of rice elegantly draped with a slice of fish or other topping is “nigiri sushi.” Sushi rolls are called “maki sushi.” “Uramaki” rolls have the rice on the outside. There are dozens more variations on these types, but we’ll save those for our post sushi-apocalypse party. For now let’s stick with basic survival.
When eating at a decent sushi restaurant, such as Sushi Nabe or Sekisui, the order you eat your dishes can make a huge difference in your experience. Order sashimi first. The delicate flavors of these thinly sliced pieces of fish should be eaten before other strong flavors affect your palate. Order nigiri next, starting with milder flavors and building to stronger ones. If you must dip, dip pieces of nigiri lightly into soy sauce (shoyu), topping side first. Turn nigiri pieces upside down so that the sauce touches the topping instead of the rice—and never dip the rice in shoyu. Eating nigiri upside down also ensures the fish hits your taste buds first instead of the rice.
Save anything spicy or cooked, such as unagi (eel) or tempura, for the end of the meal because tasting subtleties after a spicy tuna roll is like listening to NPR on the way home from a Motorhead show.
Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce to make that unholy wasabi soup concoction. This is like putting ketchup on a steak. But if you are eating pseushi I recommend piling on whatever condiment helps you choke that mess down. The pickled ginger (gari) is meant to be eaten between dishes of sushi as a palate cleanser. It’s not a condiment and is not meant to be eaten in any type of sushi or hand roll.
There are plenty of restaurants in Chattanooga that will gladly roll up cat-food quality tuna with some cream cheese and overcooked rice into a cold, doughy, fishy tube of sadness and pretend it’s sushi. If you’re trying to break the pseushi habit I recommend dining omakase style at a sushi restaurant such as Sushi Nabe or Sekisui. Omakase style leaves the selection of dishes up to the Itamae (chef), similar to ordering a tasting menu. Places such as NA Go YA, Mikado, Rain, and Kumo come dangerously close to pseushi at times and large chain restaurants like Shogun, Ichiban and Fuji barely mask their embrace of pseushi flavors and combinations. Two new sushi restaurants, Totto on Frazier Avenue and Esushi on Market Street, are slated to open in the next couple of weeks and we can only hope they will be warriors in the battle against pseushi and not double agents supporting the rise of this blight.
Chattanooga may or may not have enough serious sushi enthusiasts to support a truly top-notch sushi bar, but as customers we can continue to fight against the evils of the California Roll and live to tell the grandkids how we survived the Great Pseushi Crisis of 2012.
Mike McJunkin cooks better than you and eats quite a bit of once forbidden food. Read his frequent food rants in The Pulse, and check his Facebook page (Sushi and Biscuits) for updates and recipes. You’ll thank us.